FWP Commission rejects Madison River proposal

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission rejected a proposed plan regulating recreation use on the Madison River during an April 19 meeting in Helena. The Madison River Recreation Plan, which was drafted by state fisheries officials, would have regulated commercial fishing use on the river. The commission voted 4-0 against the current proposal. 

The plan would have capped the number of commercial outfitters at 213, the 2017 number of active permit holders, and limited trips per day; roughly 10 per day from June 16 through Sept. 30. Only five trips per day would be allowed Jan. 1 through June 15, and Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region Three Fisheries Manager Travis Horton, the proposed plan would have allowed for a possible 1.5 million commercial trips.

The regulations came as a response to overcrowding on the Madison River after Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks reported pressure on the river has seen a steady increase over the past 10 years, peaking at 179,000 angler days in 2017. A press release from FWP stated commercial outfitters had increased by 72 percent since 2008. 

The Commission heard from several outfitters who opposed the plan, saying the proposal did nothing to regulate non-commercial anglers. Ennis outfitter John Way, who spoke in opposition of the proposal during the April 19 meeting, said he felt the Commission made the right decision. “I believe the Madison needs a holistic recreation management plan and unfortunately, I don’t think this was the right approach,” he said. 

Prior to the vote, Way said he felt the plan lacked definition and was not solving the problem in regard to overall use, basin wide. 

The proposed plan would have closed different reaches of the river each day to commercial users, including totally banning commercial use in the lowest reach, Greycliff Fishing Access Site to the Jefferson River. “In the upper Madison, there are 37 miles of floatable water right now,” said Way. “If you close one stretch a day to outfitters, you still have the same amount of use in less space. That’s not managing use, that’s putting more rats in a tighter cage.” 

Way served on the Madison River Citizen Advisory Committee, which sent recommendations to FWP in 2014 regarding the river, but did not propose any regulations on commercial use. 

The Madison River Foundation issued a press release after the April 19 vote, saying the Madison River Foundation Board of Directors was disappointed in the Commission’s decision. The Foundation, whose mission is to preserve, protect and enhance the Madison River, was in favor of the proposal and its limits on glass in the river, the proposed regulations on special recreation permit holders and regulations from the outlet of Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge and Ennis Bridge to Ennis Lake to reduce conflict between walk/wade and float anglers. 

“Sending the plan to public comment would have allowed for input from all users, instead the commission decided to start the process over,” said MRF Executive Director Lauren Wittorp in the release. “… FWP took the right approach in producing a fair, well researched plan that included public input. The Commission and those who voiced opposition have put the Madison River fishery in jeopardy.” 

Horton stated prior to the decision the Madison River fish populations were in good condition but fish behavior has changed. “There is a threshold where use could start affecting fish population, but we don’t know where that threshold is,” he stated. 

Horton said FWP is still deciding how to move forward.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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